KRAMATORSK, Ukraine — A Ukrainian National Guard soldier opened fire on a missile and rocket factory in the east of the country on Thursday, killing five people, police said.
While details of the shooting were scarce and there were no immediate signs it was linked to military buildup in the region, it underscored the dangers of the moment as fears of a Russian attack on the Ukraine were growing day by day.
The shooter fled the scene, resulting in a sprawling manhunt that lasted for hours before a suspect was arrested, police say. Police identified the man as Artemiy Ryabchuk and said he was born in 2001, but released few other details about him.
Even as the investigation continued, the episode was caught in the darkness of a wider geopolitical struggle between the West and Russia, in which the Kremlin is trying to reduce the Western presence in a region it considers to be within its sphere of influence. US officials have warned that Russia could resort to disinformation, paramilitary attacks and sabotage.
This month, the United States said, Russia sent intelligence agents and saboteurs to eastern Ukraine to stage a provocation, with the region’s industrial infrastructure seen as a potential target.
The site of the early Thursday morning shooting — commonly known as Yuzhmash, an aerospace and rocket factory that U.S. officials have long considered to pose a weapons proliferation risk — is precisely the type of strategic location that Western officials are watching intensely.
They fear that Russia will use any sign of instability inside Ukraine as a pretext for military intervention. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said this month that the United States believed Russia was potentially looking to fabricate events it could cite as a reason to invade, “including through the sabotage”.
The shooting took place in Dnipro, one of the largest cities in the country and more than 100 miles from the frontline of the war in eastern Ukraine, where the Ukrainian army is fighting separatists backed by Russia since 2014.
Since the factory was once a production site for intercontinental ballistic missiles, it was tightly guarded even before the latest tensions.
Police said shortly before 4 a.m., as soldiers retrieved their weapons from a guard post, the gunman opened fire. There were 22 people in the room at the time, authorities said.
Four of those killed were comrades in arms. A factory worker was also killed, police said. Five other people were injured.
A statement from the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, said the soldier turned his gun on other servicemen guarding the factory and then fled.
The statement said the soldier fired “for undetermined reasons.”
Later, Denys Monastyrsky, Ukraine’s Interior Minister, wrote in a Facebook post that police were reviewing the suspect’s medical records since his enlistment, suggesting the investigation would include the possibility of a psychological disorder.
The attack came just hours after the United States and NATO provided written responses to Russian demands regarding the presence of Western nations in former Soviet states, saying certain security issues could be discussed while d others were non-negotiable.